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Sylt: Northern Germany's hidden haven

By Julie Jackson for CNN

White sand beaches, dotted with Sylt's iconic deck chairs, stretch along the island's western side.


Madrid (Spain)

Sylt, northern Germany -- Often referred to as the "St. Tropez of Germany," and best known as a getaway for affluent northern Germans, Sylt is a rare gem most of Europe's holiday makers never discover.

With its unspoilt beaches and unique architecture, Sylt -- pronounced "zoolt" -- is arguably the most enchanting of the North Frisian Islands, off Germany's northern coastline.

There is a distinct air of indulgence on the island -- with its designer boutiques, expensive restaurants and abundance of top end German cars.

It is definitely a playground for the rich and famous, but Sylt has a wealth of attractions that can be enjoyed by a visitor no matter what their budget.

Arriving on Sylt via the train causeway Hindenburgdamm, the thatched-roof houses dotting the landscape give the impression of a land frozen in time.

The Frisian-style houses have reed roofs that slope down to mix with the surrounding vegetation. They can be seen clustered in the various villages or standing alone atop the dunes amidst the heath.

The island's main town, Westerland, is a bustling tourist hub with scores of shops, seaside bars and restaurants. But for the more prestigious boutiques and chic bars, visit Kampen, the central point for the rich and famous, boasting many of the island's reed-topped villas.

Secluded beaches can be found near List on Sylt's northern tip. This can be the best place to go to escape the crowds -- although it is also the arrival point for the car ferry from the Danish island of Rom. The famous Gosch restaurant, which has all manner of seafood fresh from the North Sea, is also nearby.

One of the most unique places to visit is Kupferkanne, a tearoom in Kampen offering light meals, cakes and coffees.

Kupferkanne directly overlooks the Watten Sea and was created by navy lieutenant Gunter Rieck, who found himself there at the end of World War II.

A sculptor, Rieck built the site out of a disused bunker, making the half-underground rooms sitting beneath grassed hills peculiarly reminiscent of Tolkein's Shire.

Shifting sands

The landscape itself is food for the senses. The island's north is graced with 'wanderdunes' -- travelling sands that shift with the wind.

Stretching along the full length of western Sylt is the longest continuous beach in Germany. The fine white sand is a luxury in crowded Europe and has helped Sylt develop into a windurfing mecca, so much so that a round of the Professional Windsurfing Association world cup is held there every year.

Thatch-roofed houses cluster among the reeds.

And what better way to soak up the beach atmosphere than in one of Sylt's iconic Strandkoerbe, or large wicker beach chairs.

The basket chairs, with colorful striped cushions and a small roof with two side walls, provide the sunbather with comfortable protection from the summer sun and the ocean breeze -- as well as from nosy neighbors.

The grey mudflats of the Wattenmeer make the feel of the eastern side of the island worlds apart from the resort-like west.

Declared a national park in 1985, the tidal mudflats are a fertile ecosystem that harbours countless species of wildlife. It acts as a feeding and resting place for migratory birds and an important nursery for many fish and crustaceans.

But why just let the wildlife benefit from Sylt's pristine environment? Some believe the clean air of the North Sea to be better for the skin than the most expensive beauty products and many holidaymakers seek out the island for a number of health cures, or just a much-needed rejuvenation from congested city life.

And no doubt some serious rejuvenation will be just what you will need -- watching all that windsurfing can be exhausting work.

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